This is what I believe. 100%. But I’m kind of kidding too. It’s one of those subjects that gets some folks in our business pretty animated. Passions run high on both sides of this debate.
Before we go any further, I’m sure many of you are thinking, omni-what? — so, let’s take a step back.
Some roasters believe that coffee needs to be roasted differently depending on the equipment used to brew it. We don’t. That makes us an ‘omni-roaster’.
As an omni-roaster, we believe that there is only ever one roast profile that perfectly highlights the unique characteristics of a particular coffee. This one profile will deliver the right balance of acidity, fruitiness, and sweetness. When executed properly, this one profile will also result in coffee that is soluble enough to be brewed using any method when paired with a decent grinder—including an espresso machine.
Like I said, this idea seems to upset some people. When we try to move beyond the bluster, it seems like there are a few different things going on, and anyone in our industry who thinks that their way is the right way is missing the point. In reality, it’s all about individual preferences and expectations.
Maybe an example will help illustrate things better. Some people just dislike acidity in espresso—it’s a fact. Those people are potentially better served by roasters that (put simply) roast the coffee more for espresso. This tones down the acidity, develops more of the balancing sugars, and usually introduces more bitterness. People who don’t like acidity in espresso are more likely to prefer an ‘espresso roast’ like this, from a non-omni roaster. And that’s fine.
For us, these coffees can end up tasting bitter, or ‘roasty’ and lacking in complexity or distinctiveness. They tend not to work as well in other, non-espresso brew methods—so we do things differently.
The point is that we don’t all like the same things.
But is our way the right way?
Yes, undoubtedly. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. What I really mean is that we are fully committed to the idea of ‘one roast profile to rule them all’ and we have been for over a decade now. It’s definitely the right approach for us, and presumably for the people who come to us for their beans.
There have been many challenges for us in developing our roasting style over the years. Omni-roasting requires a huge amount of skill, experience and extremely rigorous quality control processes—which we are continually developing and improving. It’s undoubtedly not an easy thing to do, but it is possible.
When it succeeds, we can present all the positive attributes of any given coffee so that a skilled barista, or a home brewing enthusiast will be able to brew outstanding beverages, regardless of what equipment they are using.
That’s not to say that omni-roasted coffee requires more brewing skill. In our experience, the opposite is true. Our focus on creating soluble, balanced, exciting coffee means that spectacular results are easier to achieve and replicate for anyone.
There must be some downsides to omni-roasting though, right?
Not that I can think of.
In a few weeks time, we’ll be taking delivery of the first Kenyan coffees landing this year. I know already that our roast profile will really focus in on the citrus acidity in this coffee—it’s the characteristic that makes the arrival of Kenyan coffee so exciting for us. Our profile will inevitably result in a coffee that makes for some seriously zingy espresso, and I'm already certain that some people will find it too much. Personally, I love it. Obviously.
Now, of course we could ‘roast it for espresso’, and tame that acidity in the roast. But why would we do that? — we’d be trying to make the coffee into something that it isn’t. We’d be taking away the thing we love the most about it and making it more generic. Fans of ‘face-melting’ espresso would never forgive us. Those people know what they like, and they’ve been eagerly awaiting this coffee for months.
Ultimately, that’s the point. Our people are our people because they like how we go about roasting their coffee. They love what we love. That’s what makes them our people.
My advice is always to find a roaster that likes the same sort of coffee that you like, roasts it the way that you think it should be roasted, and does it consistently well. It really is that simple. If you don’t know what you like yet, then you’re in for a lot of fun figuring it all out.
As always, it would be great to hear your take on all this, so feel free to comment or ask questions over on Twitter.